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COA upholds murder, neglect convictions in 3-year-old’s death

March 19, 2018

A woman convicted of neglecting and murdering her boyfriend’s 3-year-old son has lost her appeal before the Indiana Court of Appeals, which found sufficient evidence to support her conviction for the “horrific” crime.

In Jennifer Schooler v. State of Indiana, 69A01-1706-CR-1254, Jennifer Schooler cared for 10-year-old Cheyenne and 3-year-old Bradyn while their father and her boyfriend, Thomas Chadwell, was at work. On the afternoon of Aug. 12, 2015, Schooler began calling Chadwick several times at 1:19 p.m. and spoke with him for nine minutes before calling 911 at 1:34 p.m. to report that Bradyn was unresponsive and not breathing.

Schooler told the 911 operator that Bradyn had hit his head on the base of a fish tank, but one of the paramedics noticed numerous cuts and bruises on Bradyn’s body — including finger-shaped bruises on his face. Schooler claimed Bradyn sustained those injuries while recently in the custody of his mother, but his mother had been in jail since the previous May.

After Bradyn was taken to the hospital, Schooler again claimed claimed Bradyn had sustained injuries while in his mother’s care, prompting her to call the Department of Child Services. Police, however, were able to confirm that School never called DCS, and they also found a broken wooden spoon near Bradyn’s toy box.  

Meanwhile, Bradyn was diagnosed with several broken bones and significant brain bleeding that caused him to stop breathing. They also discovered marks on his body that were consistent with the unique pattern on a metal spoon found in the apartment. Bradyn died two days later, with an autopsy concluding his death was caused by non-accidental trauma to the head.

After admitting to police that she often spanked Bradyn and had recently knocked him down, Schooler was arrested and charged with murder, neglect of a dependent resulting in death and aggravated battery. Among the state’s witnesses were Cheyenne, who testified that Schooler would spank Bradyn with metal and wooden spoons, and experts who testified that Bradyn was the victim of “violent trauma” caused by a shake, twist or other impact.

Schooler was convicted on all counts, but the trial court vacated the aggravated felony charge and reduced the neglect charge to a Level 6. She was then sentenced to an aggregate of 67 ½ years, the maximum she could serve.

The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld Schooler’s convictions and sentence in a Monday opinion, with Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik first writing there was sufficient evidence to support the jury’s finding that Schooler, not Chadwick, inflicted the fatal injuries. Vaidik specifically pointed to expert evidence that the injuries likely occurred when Schooler was alone with Bradyn, her delay in calling 911, her inconsistent and false statements and Cheyenne’s testimony about Schooler’s habit of spanking Bradyn with spoons.

The appellate court also upheld Schooler’s sentence, finding the nature of Bradyn’s death was “horrific” and noting that Schooler had lost custody of her own five children, demonstrating a propensity toward abuse and neglect.

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